6600 + Maestro driving New SPE 1.5-FA which suddenly says 1w PEP output ! :-(

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I was in the middle of CQ DX CW contest and took a break.  When I came back, everything looked normal, but the SPE 1.5K - FA was not producing output. Don’t know what happened?! No one in the house but me, no HW changes, the amp temp has never been over 38C & amp has had weeks of power-on burn in.

It was working fine for first 12 hours of contest and for weeks prior, although I was getting mysterious (well seemed mysterious to me) SWR kickouts from Max Power to Standby (not ratchetting power down to MID) in the middle of QSO exchanges for no apparent reason - nothing had changed. SWR after SPE auto tune was < 1.2:1 at the antenna readout and better than that in the final SWR window below on the display. Have also checked the antenna w RigExpert analyzer and all is good. The Flex ATU (on the input to the SPE) had been on automatic, which I wondered might be related to the SWR kickouts, but I figured out the Flex menu setting to turn it off and was operating successfully for an hour or so without it.

FYI, cable was made by Dan Tassel, and worked fine. No hardware changes during the contest.

I turned everything off (6600, Maestro & SPE) and re-powered 6600, then Maestro, then SPI - no change. Same on behavior on all bands. SPE tracks band changes on Maestro,  putting SPE into standby changes Flex power to 100w. In SPE Operate, changing Power levels from Max to Mid and changing bands tracks all of the drive power settings programmed into the SPE. Everything acts normal, fan operation, PA FET voltage level, ... Just when I key the keyer, it says 1w PEP PA Out on the meter (0 in Mid or Low power levels).

I did a “General Restore” on the SPE per manual instructions by switching to standby mode & holding the INPUT & OFF keys. Turned it back on and restored the Antennas & CAT settings. The drive power level settings were retained and didn’t have to be reset. However this didn’t repair the output issue.

Ideas? I keep thinking I must be too tired and am overlooking something obvious!  Would like to get back in the contest!

73, Ken WC6Y

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Ken

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  • tired and frustrated!!

Posted 2 months ago

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Paul - K6HR

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Hi Ken,
What happens when you press the TUNE button?
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Michael Walker, Employee

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So, I read through this a few times.  It sounds like it is time to step back to the basics.  We need to isolate this between the radio or the Amp.

  • Do you have the correct TX antenna?
  • Insert a watt meter between the radio and the amp - how much power out do you have?
  • Turn the tuner OFF on the radio.   You should not require the tuner on on the radio unless you have an alignment issue on the amp.
Again, baby steps.  Off the top of my head, you are on the wrong TX antenna.

Mike
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Ken

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Thanks Paul & Michael for your posts. I'll start with yours Paul.

There is a Tune button on the Maestro, and a Tune button on the SPE amp. I have turned off the ATU memory on the FLEX. Tuning procedure is: a) put SPE in standby, b) push SPE Tune button, c) press Maestro Tune button. The SPE relays start clattering and produce a solution. The display shows two SWR's, one labeled ANT SWR (I presume the SWR the SPE sees on the antenna port) and the other "SWR"  display saying what presents to the FLEX. When I follow this procedure it tunes nicely as before on all bands. Antenna is a myantennas EFHW 8010-2K horizontal at 100'. 

I wondered if the SPE meter was lying and it was producing full output? It is not. I sent out a long string of CQ's & Call on a dead band and couldn't get the SPE temperature to go up more than a degree or two, nor did the fan come on. I did do a test on each band as follows:

10m - SPE says producing 10w in Max. Ant SWR 1.2 SWR to FLEX 1.04
12m - 10w in Max. Ant SWR 1.00, Flex SWR 1.12
15m - 106.1w in Max. Ant SWR 1.09, Flex SWR 1.0
20m - 0w in Max. Ant SWR 1.24, Flex SWR 1.0
30m - 0w in Max. Ant SWR 1.48, Flex SWR 1.03
40m - 0w in Max. Ant SWR 1.0, Flex SWR 1.0
80m - 0w in Max. Ant SWR 1.0, Flex SWR 1.0

As for your questions Mike,
I have a remote antenna switch and only one antenna cable coming into the shack to the Ameritron RCS-4 box, which then goes to Ant 1 of the SPE (and is selected on the front panel) SPE input goes to Ant 1 of 6600. All profiles on Maestro show Transmit antenna as ANT1 (just verified). Haven't changed this setup since it was inaugurated weeks ago. 

I don't have an external wattmeter available. However, when the SPE is in Standby, it shows 114w being output from the Flex on 40m. As a further test, I just worked D4C Cape Verde on 7.073 w same 114w.

The ATU is off on the Flex.

Thank you both for your help!
73, 
Ken
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Paul - K6HR

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Is the correct input chosen on the SPE? 
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Ken

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Yes. Physically the connections are as described. Logically, in the SPE Antenna table, all the Bank B settings are No (since I don't have a second location) The Bank A settings are all "1" for 80, 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12 & 10 and "No" (i.e. no antenna) for 160, 60 & 6. Front panel SPE display shows "Ant 1" and "Bnk A"
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Rick - W5FCX

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Verify that TX1 is set on the bands settings dialogue- the one with the rows and columns of checkboxes.
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Ken

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Thanks for the idea. Yes TX1, TX2, TX3 & ACC TX are all checked for all bands. Also, RF PWR is set appropriately (automatically by the SPE) to match the exciter power levels set in the SPE. Tune power is set at 10 for all bands. No other boxes are checked.
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Ken

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Having no luck beating the Montenegro pileup barefoot ;-(
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K3SF

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it is possibly the antenna...rated at 2kW-ICAS....
and
the amp pushing 1.5 kw is not the best idea

you most likely over heated the balun by saturating the core....

hard to say what damage the antenna balun has sustained
and
whether it is permanent at this point

cw contesting approaches a high duty cycle which doesnt give the balun a chance to cool down which can cause possible heat damage

To verify that this maybe the issue or not,  try your setup into a dummy load.

good read on eham regarding de-rating baluns

https://www.eham.net/forum/view?id=topic%2C127469.0.html



Paul K3SF



(Edited)
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Ken

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Excellent sleuthing! I like that it would account for things working at low power but not at high; however, that doesn't seem to be what's happening here. I don't have a 2k dummy load, but I do have a second EFHW 8010-2K on the remote switch that is set up 100' vertically and the rest pulled to the side like an Inv L wannabe. The SWR has been affected by the configuration so I haven't used it. Switching to that antenna does not restore power. I checked on 15m & 20m and got about the same readings (0) after doing the tuning procedure on the vertical orientation antenna.

Also, some mistakes in the table I supplied. I mis-copied 10m - reading should have been 20w.
Also, the 106.1w on 15m, the Amp was in standby, that was the output of the Flex. I remeasured everything. So now the table says 15m 8w. 12m 13w. 10m 21w. 0 watts for 20m and below. Seems suspiciously like a pattern, but I don't know what it means. But it's feeling SPE internal - just a hunch.

I'm not really a contester, I couldn't run to save my life. I S&P for countries & band-slots I need. I don't think I'm taxing the amp and hopefully not the balun. I might send my call repeatedly every 5 seconds for a while in a pileup, but I usually move on if I'm not successful reasonably quickly.
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Bob Craig, K8RC

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Sounds like an arc happening somewhere to trip the amp off line.  An arc looks like infinite SWR for an instant to most protective circuits.

I concur on testing into a dummy load to validate the amp.

If than's OK, you might try to throttle back the drive to produce a few hundred watts and see if it holds without tripping out. Sneak the power up a bit at a time. If you make it back to 1.5K, continue to operate. If it trips out after a while then balun heating is likely your problem.

Good luck.

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Ken

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Thanks, I'll see if I can borrow a 2K dummy load and try out your idea.
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Erik Carling

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Have you looked at the protection alarms log for the 1.5? Maybe there was one that you missed while you were absent.
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Ken

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Thanks for the idea. The alarm log just had "SWR exceeded limits" messages which have been occurring periodically (and mysteriously to me) for some time. Unfortunately no time/date stamp. As I've note earlier, everything I can measure SWR-wise is well under 2:1 - so these messages seem anomalous to me.
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EA4GLI - 8P9EH - Salvador

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This totally sucks, sorry, but it loos like a busted SPE. Do you have a spare radio to test the amp without the flex? But you are describing the finals on the SPE being gone.
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Ken

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This is my great fear! No spare radio for now. I'll speak w Bob Hardie W5UQ the USA distributor on Monday.
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Alan

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I had the same problem after installing an amp and tuner and operating at high power.  All seemed good for the first few days, then bam.....the amp would remove itself from the operation.  Low power with the Flex barefoot was OK, high power with the amp above 200 watts and the amp would trip offline.

I have a 2kw dummy load so starting with it installed at the amp output.....all ok.   Good, the amp is OK.   Then installed just before the antenna..... the amp tripped off.  So, the problem was in the feedline somewhere.

I move the dummy load along the feedline and found the problem to be the Alpha-Delta Surge Arrestor.  It is a high power model so at first, I did not suspect it could be the problem.   Removed the screw-in element.   Still a problem.    Removed the Alpha-Delta Surge arrestor from the feedline......Problem fixed!

New surge arrestor from Array Solutions on order.

I have a non-resonate antenna....so I suspect there are some very high voltages in the feedline which the Alpha Delta Surge arrestor could not deal with.

You may not have a bad Alpha Delta Surge arrestor, but I learned some key ideas:

1- Do not be so quick to blame the amp/tuner for the problem before you are sure it is not in the feedline/antenna.
2- The suggestion to use a dummy load to isolate the problem is a good first step.   You said you switch antennas, but what about the feedline elements common to both antennas?
3- There can be very high voltages in the feedline if you are not using a resonate antenna.  I think I read the SPE amp is derated at higher SWRs because of the high voltages present.  (Maybe I have my amps mixed up, but the idea is the same.)
4- It may take some time for a feedline component to breakdown under high voltage and high duty cycle, but once the breakdown occurs, there is now an established path for current to flow causing problems at even lower power levels.

Alan
WA9WUD 
(Edited)
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Ken

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Interesting Ideas. I stripped out the Alpha-Delta high-power lightning arrestor and the entire Ametron RCS-4 remote switching setup just to simplify things. Now it's just about 350' of Altelix AX-400 (an LMR-400 knock off) and various *Amphenol* connectors to the back panel of the SPE. No Change. Sigh.  I suppose I could get the Hustler R7 vertical out of storage and throw in a short length of new coax out the window to it just to see ... The AX-400 is lying on top of the ground and we do have critters that chew on the sprinkler pipes, which the AX-400 kinda looks like. Again, every thing works with the 6600/Maestro barefoot.

But I'm fearing the fried power FET theory advanced by EA4GLI ...

Running with Amp in standby, am back to the CQ WW CW DX w 100w. Quite a difference w/o an amp...
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Lawrence Kellar KB5ZZB

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The new Finals in the 1.5 are supposed to be more robust than previous versions of the amp. I have a 2K-FA and a 1.3K-FA so I’m curious what you find out
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Ken

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Bob Hardie just happened to check his business email over the weekend. After I reported the current (.4A) and voltage (54v) to the PA, he told me to send him the SPE. In response to my "is this a warranty repair?" he said he would put it on the bench and see. He suspected that the log was full of "SWR overage messages". It was, but as I've described, I'm not sure why - I've treated the SPE with kid gloves. Will keep this thread updated after Thanksgiving when the amp comes back.
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Ken

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An Update:

The PA was in fact blown, Bob replaced it and sent it back. Upon the SPE return, I had full power, but I continued to experience High SWR and Overdrive (OD) messages with the SPE taking itself offline. I purchased a Palstar DL2K dummy load and continued to get mostly SWR but also OD msgs on all bands and at low, medium and high power using the DL2K. In high power, my Maestro/6600 says I'm driving w between 25 - 29w (which is manually set, no ALC) depending on band. In one 15m test, the drive power was low enough that the SPE said 1.3KW to 1.4KW output, but still took itself offline after 20 sec of 30wpm code. Thinking these were definitive results, I sent the SPE back to Bob. He has been unable to reproduce the failures I'm observing on his test bench using a 2.5KW Bird DL. He sees no failures at all on any band, at any power level.

I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out what I'm doing wrong, what's different between our setups. My interconnection cable was made by Dan Tassell KC5PCB, I've triple checked that its interconnected properly (unless I have unwittingly damaged active components in the cable). The Maestro power readout is always 26 - 29w for high power, and proportionately less for Mid (1kw) and Low (500w).

I'm assuming that the power readout on the Maestro top center is correct within a watt or so? And that it can't be overdriving the SPE? Also the SWR for the DL2K always read < 1.10:1 and got lower as the resistors heated up (resistor values drop towards 50 ohms). 

Anyone have insights?

Thanks in advance,
Ken WC6Y
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Bill -VA3WTB

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How much power input can the amp handle?
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Ken

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I don't see that the SPE manual specifies a maximum input power. Since the Flex does not support the analog ALC signal provided by the SPE, the manual suggests starting with a low drive value (e.g. 10 watts) and working one's way up until the proper output power is obtained so as to not overdrive the amp. This I did. I'm using 25 - 29 watts for Max power depending upon the band. When Bob repeated the tests using his exciter on 15m, he used 37 watts to obtain 1520 watts out of the SPE.
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Lawrence Kellar KB5ZZB

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ALC overshoot?
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Ken

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I don’t know, please describe further. How would this occur?
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EA4GLI - 8P9EH - Salvador

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Thanks for getting back to us with the update.

As "luck" will have it, I just sent my 1.5k to Italy. Very similar problem to yours. I am afraid there is something wrong with the way the 1.5k handles the input power as I am aware of at least 2 other hams who had to send theirs for repairs with same problem.
I just don't have any other information and spe is very quiet about the issue. Previous 1k and 1.3k have been rock solid for years.

My guess right now is that the protection circuit on the 1.5k is just not fast enough. My recommendation is to not exceed 15 20w input power and deal with the gain the PA can provide, and avoid pushing it to get any "extra" power. You should still be very close to legal limit. I would also add 50 to 100ms to the TX delay in the Flex menu. I had mine with 50,but it wasn't enough or it didn't stop it from failing in my case. Take my advice with a grain of salt.

Someone mentioned to me that the Flex with the DX and DX+ Proc options "spikes"... [sic] This is something I have not been able to test neither has it been proven to me. In your case it failed with cw so that is not the cause.

People report issues with the 1.5k +icom 7851 + ALC = distortion in the tx voice. So there is definitely something not properly designed in the 1.5k

It could be a Flex thing.... However, the other persons I know that have sent their spe 1.5k for repair were not using flex transceivers... So I am inclined right now to put the blame on the 1.5k.

I still like the convenience of the spe amp. I have been looking at alternative options in the market while I wait for it to get back from tech. support, but I just can't find anything that is as convenient, practical, small, etc... as the spe. So we will have to wait and eventually find out what is wrong.

I take very good care of my gear and have been using the Flex + Spe combo for many years without issues. I don't think we, the users, are the problem.

FYI, I have a version 2 of the 1.5k and use a 6700, optibeam and ultrabeam antenas.
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EA4GLI - 8P9EH - Salvador

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While the relays on the SPE are extremely fast  (7 ms) it doesn't hurt to add a bit of protection by adding a few more ms before sending any power through the amp, just in case the flex relays are even faster.

You can easily go up to 250 ms without noticeable delay, but try anything between 50 ms and 100 ms at least. Just to be safe and go down from there. For SSB is fine but depending on your CW speed and operating style you might not want to add so much.

To add insult to injury, my extremely reliable 6700 decided to fail on me as well. I am getting the TIMEOUT error. Already contacted Flex super support and I seem to need a new SD CARD which should arrive any day now! 

So no amp and no transceiver.... I guess is time to talk to the family! 
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Bill -VA3WTB

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At least with a new SD card that will not likely give any problems for the rest of your life..lol
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Erik Carling

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In my opinion, the SPE 1.5 can certainly have the problem described by Salvador. Mine is on its way back to Italy after owning for only one month. No output power, having failed today, but not operated beyond its normal parameters in any way. Luckily I still have the SPE 1.3 that it was to replace. 
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Ken

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My LDMOS FET was replaced here in the States presumably because I was overdriving the amp somehow. Did you buy through a USA distributor? Did you send it back to them first, and if so, why are they sending it to Italy? (not just to replace the LDMOS FET?)


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Erik Carling

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Hello Ken. I am in Ireland and bought the amp from a UK dealer. So I have had to return it to them for onward dispatch to Italy. You are lucky because in EU, even though I have owned it for a month and it is a warranty repair, the SPE quoted repair time is a minimum of 70 days. As for overdriving, I do wonder if there is a problem with some 1.5 amps. My radio output is restricted to 25 to 29 watts depending on band to get full output. Yet I did 3 times get the over-driving warning. Even so, 'protection' should prevent damage. I have since learnt of quite a number of 1.5s having the LDMOS replaced recently. In the marketing hype, the device is claimed to be 'indestructible'. Obviously not.
(Edited)
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Paul - K6HR

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One last thought. My SPE had similar issues when I first set it up. It turned out that I had a bad Ground connection. Is your SPE tied into your station ground? Is your station ground a 'low impedance' ground system? My SPE did not act right, so I rebuilt my station grounding and the SPE has not tripped since 2+ years now...
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Ken

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Hmmm - maybe. Ham shack is a new location on the ground floor. The subfloor was torn up for another reason, I installed a 10' ground rod under the desk and brought up a 4" x 6' copper strap into the hamshack. This ground rod is attached to the Service entrance ground rods by 80' #10AWG wire. The 6600 ground lug is attached to the copper strap by 12' (this could be shorter) of 3⁄4" braid. The SPE is connected to the 6600 ground lug by 8' #10AWG. There are other ground rods for the antennas that are in a star configuration from the Service Entrance ground rods. Thoughts? Anyone see ground loops etc?

How do you recommend I measure the impedance of my ground system?
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Ken

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Thanks, I looked over the presentation. I guess I have a quiet station, my noise levels are typically S1-S2 on 20 & 17, sometimes under S1. Sometimes S1 on 40, depending upon atmospherics. I didn't see any mention of how to actually measure the impedance of my ground system. Ideas?
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EA4GLI - 8P9EH - Salvador

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Hi Paul. What was your grounding solution? Common ground with other equipment?